April Is for Commuters

04/07/2015 05:27 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2015

It's still early in the month but already April is shaping up to be a great one for Los Angeles commuters. No, I am not talking about the relative calm of Easter weekend, though that was nice too.

The good news for commuters started with the opening Thursday of a protected bike lane on Reseda Boulevard between Parthenia and Plummer Streets in Northridge. While not everyone bikes to work, shopping or school, the opening of the City's first protected bike lane benefits everyone who travels this stretch of Reseda as it makes the boulevard safer for drivers as well as pedestrians and bikers. Sharrows, or shared bike/car lanes, are nice (and increasingly common around Los Angeles), but protected bike lanes are better. The bike lanes are safer for all because of a "floating parking" lane, which moves parking away from the curb to create the curbside bike lane. The newly configured parking lane serves as a protective buffer between cars and buses and bikes. For now, Reseda Boulevard's improvements are temporary but with any luck they will get upgraded to permanent, landscaped improvements over time.

The Reseda bike lane is the first of fifteen projects in the Mayor's Great Streets Program. Great Streets aims to activate public spaces, provide economic revitalization, increase public safety, enhance local culture and support great areas throughout the city. The expectation is that these targeted communities will become for Angelenos, regardless of their means of transportation, better places to walk, shop and enjoy the street life.

Good news item number two came with the start of "clearance testing" for phase two of the Expo Line to Santa Monica. Clearance testing involves running the train to ensure that it operates free of all obstructions along the tracks, including platforms and signals.

The sight of a train running under its own steam west from the Culver City Expo Line station was a welcome one for all of us anxious to have a rail alternative to driving or the bus from downtown LA to Santa Monica. While testing and construction of the line will continue for some months, Metro plans to open the Expo Line to Santa Monica in 2016, though it shouldn't actually take the transit agency the rest of 2015 to test the line. The agency's reluctance to name an opening date certain appears to have more to do with the fact that Metro doesn't have enough rail cars to operate regular train service on the line just yet. New cars are in the works but that is a whole other story.

The third piece of April news that should have commuters celebrating is the opening of the Wilshire Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. Beginning tomorrow, rush hour bus-only lanes will help move Metro 720 Rapid and 20 buses along Wilshire Boulevard between Western and San Vicente Blvd, the western edge of Beverly Hills to Comstock, Selby to just east of Veteran and Bonsall to Federal. The Wilshire BRT is less than transit advocates had hoped for but is a good step forward for commuters, shaving time off the painful rush hour commute along Wilshire. Stepped up parking enforcement to keep cars out of the bus-only lanes should help keep the buses moving.

The hope of course is that drivers watching the buses fly by as cars sit in traffic will encourage the car jockeys to give Metro a try as well.

All three of these events are important milestones in LA's embrace of public transportation and community revitalization. But they are also impactful visuals for Angelenos still tethered to their steering wheel.

Imagine the message the Expo Line speeding along the track south of the 10 Freeway in Palms will send to drivers stuck in traffic. In a city known for its Sunset Strip eye candy media, Los Angeles Metro and mass transit couldn't buy a better billboard.

Now all we need is the subway to the sea, a rail line from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay through the Sepulveda Pass and enough snow and rain to get us out of this drought.

Yours in transit,